A 30-year-old woman lives alone in a cramped apartment with her cats and un-ironically enjoys a bad Lifetime movie in bed. It sounds like the depressing beginning of a romantic comedy, but it’s the happy ending of mine.
I met my ex-boyfriend through my best friend at a metal show I had no business attending. He lived in Illinois, and I lived in Connecticut. He was engaged, and I was a mess. A friendship formed that later turned into romance when were both unexpectedly single and realized feelings were brewing. Our story had all the makings of the romantic comedy ending I thought we were supposed to have, but if you peeled back the curtain, you would see I was the heroine in reverse. The confidence I had worked so hard to gain was slipping away as I became subject to constant putdowns. The goals I had set for myself were set aside as I put my trust in the romantic comedy formula more than my own self.
Around our one-year anniversary, I was already feeling the pressure to hold our relationship together. I made more trips to visit than he did, but when I would be honest about the pressure I was feeling and communicated that more reciprocal visits would help, he would lash out and tell me he has more of a life than me. We both lived near our families, but which one of us would move was never an actual topic of discussion; it was assumed from the beginning that it would be me. His family never even asked if I was moving; they only asked when. I wanted to see Little Women when it came out in theaters while I was visiting, but he told me my taste in movies was stupid, so we watched Uncut Gems instead like he wanted to. I would listen to him talk about the WWE for hours on end because I loved hearing about the things he enjoyed, but he’d tell me to stop talking and mock me when I wanted to talk about my favorite shows. I sat for 8 hours watching him bowl in a tournament after flying to him and spending most of the week alone in his bedroom waiting for him to come home from work, but he wouldn’t spend more than a few hours in Chicago during my first visit to the city because he wanted to take the train back home to bowl that night. The bowling alley wouldn’t get on a plane and be gone for another few months, I wanted to tell him. He bowled most days of the week and didn’t see me most days of the year, I wanted to cry out on so many visits. I knew if I did, I would get yelled at and called selfish. I was expected to make the most visits, move away from my family, spend most of my visits to him alone in his house and ignored when he was home, but selfish was his favorite word to describe me. I couldn’t want or need anything. I went from a strong-willed woman to a shattered reflection of myself. I hated myself for not being happy. His stepmom would tell me to not to have any expectations for him; that I would be taken care of if I just said yes to anything he wants, didn’t tell him when I was unhappy, didn’t ask for anything. I was already 30, I thought to myself. It’s too late for me to start over. This is who I found, and I need to stick with him.
How did I find the strength to choose myself over my made-up timeline? I didn’t, really. We got into a fight the day before I was supposed to leave to come visit him. I didn’t know where all the hurtful words he was throwing at me were coming from. I was going to miss Christmas with my family to be with him and his family for the second year in a row. After being put down all day, I picked up the phone and my first words after he picked up were “I’m done.” I was barely aware of what I was doing. My intuition took over. I didn’t want to get on that plane. I didn’t want to be with him. I just didn’t want to be alone. In that moment, the fear of being alone wasn’t stronger than my desire to break free.
The first few months, I worried I made a mistake. Maybe I was asking for too much. Maybe he really was that awful but I should have put up with it. I had doubts that I was worth being loved the way I wanted to be. I went from crying myself to sleep because the person I loved didn’t seem to respect me to crying myself to sleep because I was lonely. I read every article about getting over a breakup and the stages of grief you go through. Over time, the authors of those articles were proven right. I hurt less every day. Eventually, I just didn’t think about it anymore without noticing when that happened.
I told myself from the beginning that I would wait a year before even thinking about dating again. I needed to know I was dating because I wanted to and not because I wanted to compete with how quickly the guy I broke up with moved on or to avoid being alone. Over the course of my healing, I discovered so much peace that I knew I didn’t want to be with anyone unless they contributed to that peace.
Throughout the past year, I’ve fought through the jealousy of seeing engagements, weddings, and anniversaries on my Instagram feed. As much work as I did to undo my trust in the made-up romantic comedy formula, I still have to fight every day to let go of envy and worry. I have to ask myself, “Would you really rather be engaged in a strange town you hate with a guy who puts you down than at peace in a place you love?” I would regret moving and spending my life unhappy more than I’ll ever regret not being married by 30 like I thought I would be. If I chose the unhappy version of my life, it would mean I was choosing the expectations of others over my hopes for myself because at the end of the day, the comparison to what everyone else is doing and what they’ll think of me were in control until the night I snapped and said “I’m done.”
For the first six months, I was tormented on-and-off by thoughts about whether my ex had moved on. These thoughts appeared less and less until they disappeared. It doesn’t matter what he’s doing now. I was broken when I was with him. I spent less time crying and more time watching the shows I liked without being called dumb once I left. I’m better off, so whether he has a new relationship or not has no meaning to me anymore.
While it took about six months for me to feel free of him, I stayed committed to my promise to myself that I wouldn’t even think about dating again for another six, at least. Healing was more than getting over my ex and going through love withdrawals. I needed time to be myself again after wasting so much time trying to be who my ex wanted me to be. I needed time to evaluate who I would want in a partner if I decided I wanted one. I needed time to get to a place where I didn’t feel like I had to date. Now that it’s been a year, maybe I will and maybe I won’t try again soon. Being in a relationship isn’t important to me anymore. I don’t want to force anything just for the chance of having a partner again. If I want to, I will. If I decide I’m content with my solitude and have more I want to accomplish alone, I won’t. After spending a few years carrying the burden of making a long-distance relationship work without support from the other half of the equation and anxiously awaiting the day I had to make the move to him that I was dreading, there is so much freedom in this maybe, maybe not. I have my cats. I have my friends. I have my family. I have a job I love. I’m okay with my middle being the beginning of the romantic comedy, fighting off questions at an old friend’s engagement party about why I don’t have a boyfriend or a date to the wedding and not having a formula to finish the story. I don’t need one.